Searching for the subject or verb

Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

Have you ever started reading a long sentence or paragraph and suddenly become lost?confusion It happened to me today when I was reading bios on a company’s website.

I thought “Why am I getting so confused here?” Then I realized – many of the sentences were missing either their subject or their verb. Or, in some cases, both. They were perhaps 20 words long, but they weren’t “going anywhere.”

Who did what? Who is what?

These sentences were better suited to be broken down into bullet points – with some kind of introductory sentence to tell the reader what he or she was looking at.

Of course, this kind of “sentence” is often used as a bullet point in a resume’ – and I suspect that’s where these came from. Someone forgot that a bio should be conversational. They just took points from a resume' and stuck them into a long paragraph.


You know what matters...

By now everyone who visits the Rain regularly knows that making your posts, letters, and webpages visually inviting is darn near as important as the content you write. Thus, you know paragraphs should be short, with white space between them.

You also know that bullet points add interest and simplify reading.

So if you ever find yourself writing a long, rambling sentence, first check to make sure it includes both a subject and a verb – then see if the information wouldn’t read best if presented as bullet points, which don't have to be complete sentences.

One more thing…

Those bios also included a few “$40 words” that didn’t quite fit. In fact, they were improperly used. That led to a bit more confusion.

You know that most copywriters advise against using any words that a 7th grader won’t clearly comprehend. That advice still holds. But if you’re tempted to use a word that’s a bit more sophisticated, and think it's one your audience will understand, be sure to look up the meaning first.

It’s easy and only takes a minute – just type it into your search bar. That's exactly what I did when I saw those words - just to be sure I wasn't wrong about their definitions.

You don’t want anyone thinking you’re trying to impress but don’t know what you’re saying!

The worst thing about that kind of writing...

Once your reader starts focusing on the words instead of the message, the message is doomed. If they're busy figuring out why the page is somehow "off," they're not thinking "This is the agent for me."


Graphic courtesy of Stuart Miles @

Comments (19)

Marnie Matarese
Showing you the best of Sarasota!

Great reminder to make certain that your words are being understood, not just read.

Jul 17, 2017 04:11 PM
Marte Cliff

Marnie Matarese - for some reason your comment took me way, way back to college - when I could "read" a whole chapter and not know what it said because I was thinking about something else the entire time.

Jul 17, 2017 04:21 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Marte- daily I work at not rambling, which is how I tend to talk. It is a struggle but you are right. We don't want to lose our readers because of a number of run-on words or because we use words that would require a dictionary. 

Jul 17, 2017 04:22 PM
Marte Cliff

Kathy Streib I find it's easier with writing. After I write it I can go back and look ,then condense.

I don't know which is worse, a word that makes most people need a dictionary, or the kind of words I saw today. These made the meaning clear enough, but they looked and felt "wrong," so I had to go to the dictionary to make sure that it wasn't me who was wrong.

Jul 17, 2017 04:35 PM
Kathy Streib

Marte- in general conversation and reporting of the news, I'm leaning towards the "big" words.  It's discouraging to listen to many of the people reading the news.  Many look as if they're ready for a cocktail party too. 

Jul 17, 2017 06:48 PM
Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000 - Phoenix, AZ

Marte I know exactly what you're talking about!  I read a really long post today and 1/2 way through I had no idea of what point he was trying to make. It made no sense - to me anyway! Short, sweet, white space, bullet points - and save those BIG words for another day!

Jul 17, 2017 04:32 PM
Marte Cliff

Anna Banana Kruchten, CRS Sometimes people start out knowing what they're going to say, but get off track and lose themselves - so they lose the rest of us too!

Jul 17, 2017 07:57 PM
Dr. Karen Lewis, Broker 954-2489149
K1 Realty Group - Davie, FL
No Compromise When it Comes to Our Clients!

I am always saying I understand that you maybe very smart but please break it down to me as if I am in the 6th grade..That's important because the key is when you are talking to someone you should want them to understand what you are saying..It's all good that you have your PhD but you should want me to be on the same I can respond like I have my

Jul 17, 2017 04:41 PM
Marte Cliff

Karen Jones Lewis, MBA, Realtor Yes, some people get pretty proud of their big vocabularies. I know one - a man with a PhD - who loves to use big word. He assumes that we country hillbillies don't know the words, so he gives definitions and spells them. And yet... the man does NOT know how to properly use the words I, me, and myself. I have to bite my tongue to keep from correcting him.

Jul 17, 2017 07:59 PM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good evening Marte Cliff ,

As always you make way too much sense!! KISS..Keep It simple stupid!! We want to retain readers..not loose them!

Jul 17, 2017 05:12 PM
Marte Cliff

Dorie Dillard Simple is best - why confuse people and make them go away?

Jul 17, 2017 08:00 PM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

I always appreciate your helpful hints, Marte.  I learn a little something each time I visit your blog.

Jul 17, 2017 05:25 PM
Marte Cliff

Thanks Myrl Jeffcoat - I appreciate those kind words.

Jul 17, 2017 08:01 PM
Brian DeYoung
also affiliated with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Heritage Realty - Ithaca, NY
The Realtor with personal investment background

Nice information, I was hungry for some examples of those sentences...

Jul 17, 2017 07:44 PM
Marte Cliff

I'd love to cut and paste them for you Brian DeYoung - but it wouldn't be a nice thing to do to the agents who wrote them.

Jul 17, 2017 08:01 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

We definitely don't want people to read our material and say, "Huh?" 

Jul 18, 2017 03:36 AM
Marte Cliff

No we don't Kat Palmiotti.

Jul 18, 2017 09:14 AM
Rick Frissell
HomeXpress Realty - Valrico, FL
aka "The Red Baron of Real Estate"

I have to admit I ramble, sometimes rambling in my wrtiting or maybe on a hike in the park just looking for a nice photographic image to take and not even thinking about how time is passing and even has passed taking time for granted and not even aware that someone may be waiting for me to help them since my job is to help people with their homes and my job is to be a good real estate agent.  Whoops ... I better re-read your post.  I think I got caught up in my ostensible manner. :-)

Jul 18, 2017 04:57 AM
Marte Cliff

Your job is also to live a happy life, Rick Frissell - so rambling on a hike is probably a very good thing.

Jul 18, 2017 09:15 AM
Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

Hi Marte... when I read posts of yours like this one, I am so happy I was forced to learn how to diagram sentences in grade school. Those lessons have stayed with me all my life when I write anything. (But I hated the exercise when in school.)

Jul 18, 2017 05:17 AM
Marte Cliff

I don't think I was especially good at diagramming, Nina Hollander - but I always could find the subject and the verb!

Jul 18, 2017 09:16 AM
Joan Cox
House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Marte, that is exactly why some of us call YOU to be sure our verbiage is correct!  

Jul 18, 2017 07:35 AM
Marte Cliff

I'm not the ultimate expert Joan Cox - I quite often visit Grammar Girl to get answers to my questions.

Jul 18, 2017 09:18 AM
Carol Williams
Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals. - Wenatchee, WA
Retired Agent / Broker / Property Manager

Hi Marte,
Great tips, as always.

I do find myself writing long sentences.  When I go back and read them, it becomes obvious they should be broken up into two or more sentences.  

I find it very difficult to read long paragraphs.  Maybe it's my age.  The eyes just can't focus on the big walls of words.  

Jul 18, 2017 09:38 AM
Marte Cliff

Carol Williams I can read a long paragraph in a novel - but not on a computer screen. Like yours, my eyes tend to lose focus. So, since I'm kind of a cranky old lady, I just don't try to read them!

Jul 18, 2017 12:35 PM
Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

So many folks forget about basic English grammar.  We learned this in school and somehow it has evaporated.

Featured in BananaTude!

Jul 18, 2017 11:57 AM
Marte Cliff

Belinda Spillman - isn't it crazy that we could forget how to use the one thing we use every day - language.

Of course, some didn't learn it in school. Going to school in a small town, I can attest to the fact that the teachers didn't really bother with teaching grammar.

Jul 18, 2017 12:37 PM
Dick Greenberg
New Paradigm Partners LLC - Fort Collins, CO
Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate

Hi Marte - Between poor writing skills and scant proofing effort, much of what we read on-line is incoherent. Getting some help may take an effort, but the end result is definitely worth it.

Jul 18, 2017 01:34 PM
Marte Cliff

Dick Greenberg I have an idea that much of that is written by people who "Don't know that they don't know." So - they don't know they need help.

Jul 18, 2017 04:10 PM
Chris Ann Cleland
Long and Foster Real Estate - Gainesville, VA
Associate Broker, Bristow, VA

Great reminder to all of us as we spruce up our bios, or do any other kind of writing.

Jul 18, 2017 02:22 PM
Chris Ann Cleland
Long and Foster Real Estate - Gainesville, VA
Associate Broker, Bristow, VA

Featured in the group:  BARTENDER, MAKE IT A DOUBLE.

Jul 18, 2017 02:25 PM
Marte Cliff

Thank you Chris Ann Cleland.

Jul 18, 2017 03:53 PM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good Morning Marte - the point is very well taken.  The first goal is to seek to be understood.  We need to ask ourselves as I ask my audiences, "does what I am saying or writing make sense."

Jul 19, 2017 05:06 AM
Marte Cliff

That's right Grant Schneider - if you're not communicating anything, what's the point in writing?

Jul 20, 2017 09:32 AM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Hi Marte

We can always count on great advice from you on problem areas to watch out for in our writing. I am sometimes pretty surprised at what I have written when I go back and look at it, or perhaps read it at another point in time.


Jul 22, 2017 05:34 PM
Marte Cliff

I know that feeling, Jeff Dowler - every now and then I have to cringe when reading something I wrote a few years ago.

Jul 22, 2017 07:39 PM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Marte Cliff  So glad Carol Williams  featured this post . I missed this . It really does bother me when people use words I am not sure of the meaning or if it really fits posts .  I read that most people have a 7th grade education and not to use words that they needed a dictionary to understand . Great post

Jul 24, 2017 07:10 AM
Marte Cliff

Hannah Williams - You're right - copywriters are taught to use language that any 7th grader can comprehend.

Jul 24, 2017 08:48 AM